Gordon Hartman is a former builder from San Antonio who has a daughter, Morgan, who is diagnosed as being on the Autistic Spectrum Disorder. When his daughter was 12 years old, Hartman and his wife, Maggie, took their daughter on a family vacation. One of the excursions that the family went on during this vacation was to a swimming pool. While this should have been a fun day out for all the family, Hartman was left heartbroken by the challenges his daughter faced. Morgan had found the expansive space overwhelming and had also experienced difficulty in making friends.
While this is a story that tugs at the heart strings, Hartman tried to take positive action rather than simply dwelling on this negative experience. Initially, he searched for alternatives to the typical amusement parks. He wanted to find somewhere that was inclusive and better-suited to those with special needs. Astonishingly, he couldn’t find such a place.
Instead of giving up at this point like many others would, Hartman decided that he would build an amusement park for his daughter and other children with special needs. This is the story of how the simple idea of one man led to $35 million construction of an amazing place that has given many young people the opportunity to have fun and create special memories.
Named after Hartman’s daughter, ‘Morgan’s Wonderland’ is in San Antonio, Texas. The main aim of this amusement park is to be completely inclusive, regardless of the special needs of those who visit. Hartman’s dream from the start was that 100 percent of those who visited could access the different features of the park rather than just a percentage of people like at most other attractions.
Creating the amusement park came at a huge cost. However, Gordon Hartman managed to raise the full $35 million himself. While raising the money, he founded ‘The Gordon Hartman Family Foundation’. To establish this foundation, he even sold his successful home building business. This shows just how dedicated he was to this project.
Along the way, he has had the support and input of a range of specialist, including architects, engineers, and doctors. It was essential he took the advice of each of these groups of professionals to make sure the park was functional, safe, fun, and inclusive.
Construction of ‘Morgan’s Wonderland’ began in 2007 and took three years to complete and covers a vast area of approximately 25 acres. The gates opened at the park for the first time on March 3, 2010. Each of the rides on the park is adapted to accommodate wheelchairs and this ensures that every member of a family can access the ride. There are rides and attractions on the site to suit all ages.
The park has a scenic lake that is surrounded by a track for visitors to ride in the Wonderland Express Train. The Whirling Ferris Wheel is one of the noticeable features of the park as it rises five and a half stories high and gives outstanding panoramic views across the amusement park. The carousel gives a traditional feel to the park and is adapted so that people of all abilities can ride the horses and other animals that feature on this ride. Visitors can even enjoy the Off-Road Adventure where park guests can ride in sporty vehicles and test out there driving skills.
The rides are not the only attractions at the park as there are plenty of other activities to enjoy. Take a visit to The Wharf jutting out into the lake and you can play with the remote-controlled pirate ships. The Sensory Village is a fantastic opportunity to enjoy imaginative play that stimulates the senses as there is a cluster of storefronts adorned with a range of sensory activities. There are also two large playgrounds to explore, each of which includes wheelchair swings. In between the activities and attractions, you can take a break in the picnic area or buy snacks and drinks from the shops on the park.
‘Morgan’s Wonderland’ has been a huge success and now attracts 500,000 visitors a year. Despite this, it is operating at a loss of an estimated $1 million a year. This means that Hartman is continuing to raise funds to keep the amusement park running. Gordon Hartman is so pleased with the amusement park that he is already working on his next project. He is adding a water park to ‘Morgan’s Wonderland’ called ‘Morgan’s Inspiration Island’. So far, he has raised $17 million for this through ‘The Gordon Hartman Family Foundation’.
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Written by Garrett Parker
Read more posts by Garrett Parker